Another voice in the UCSB conversation

This isn’t about diet and exercise. I wrote this last night after leaving a friend who wanted to walk home alone after dinner. I worried about her until I received a text this morning at 8:16 saying she wants to return to the restaurant where we had dinner because she can’t stop thinking about their pork buns. That made me smile. But this isn’t about food.

I was nagged with worry because this friend walked home alone at night. And, I was afraid to post this last night because it’s not funny. You won’t see any links in this post because I’m not interested in promoting anything. But, if you stumble upon this, I’m hoping another voice in the conversation won’t hurt.

I’m really tired of seeing the UCSB shooter’s face and name in my social newsfeeds.

Everyone seems to want to talk about what happened, and what it’s like to be a woman. It’s all about solidarity and how women are objectified and how society should question why this occurred.

But is anything really going to change? Yes, we should be having a conversation about gun availability and mental illness and violence against any people. Always. But, is anything other than click-baiting really happening?

I don’t know the names of the people murdered in the most recent of many massacres. But, I know the names of most of the people holding those guns. This UCSB incident is terrifying because many of us have seen the video manifesto. On the plus side it opens a dialogue about violence against women.

I’m watching #YesAllWomen on Twitter and seeing the backlash. I’m reading the articles and blog posts about what it’s like to feel vulnerable or threatened, to feel objectified or uncomfortable. We talk about how a woman should be able to wear what she wants and not be groped, but that isn’t the case in the real world. No woman should be blamed for the violence against her, but that’s not the society we live in. We need to acknowledge that very basic flaw before we can change anything.

A woman is judged for what she wears because we live in a world where it’s okay for men to touch and grope and push, a world where it’s okay to assume a short skirt means slut. I’ve always felt that a woman shouldn’t wear provocative clothing in questionable situations because that simply isn’t prudent.

Now, I realize how limited my own thinking was.

I’m old and fat. My breasts fall out of my shirt all the time because I don’t know how to dress accordingly and I get glances and looks. When I was younger and more attractive, they were more likely to be looks of desire. These days, they are more likely to be looks of disgust. But I remember those moments, late at night after an evening of flirting for tips at the bar in my tight skirt. I would stand tall, hold my head up, walk confidently, and like many women, I would grasp my keys between my fingers like a makeshift set of pointy brass knuckles.

At 15, I was stopped at the corner on my way home from school by a gentleman who wanted to talk to me about my tight pants and my pretty face. He kept me there for several minutes, asking me where I lived and how I was getting home. I never put him off, in part because I had low self esteem and wanted the attention and in part because I didn’t know what to do. Eventually, I was able to walk away and continue up the street past my house before I was brave enough to work my way around the neighborhood and through the backyard to home.

Just after high school, I went to visit some friends who had gone to college (I took a bit of a sabbatical for that first semester), and a guy threw me down onto a bed. I couldn’t get away because my foot was stuck in the bedframe. My boyfriend at the time walked in and, instead of helping, he blamed me for leading this other guy on. He shut the door and left me there to figure out my exit strategy.

I remember a time when I was living alone at 18 and a man who had come to work on the house came back to “talk” to me. He made a move and I didn’t reject him. I didn’t know how to. When he realized he wouldn’t get farther than he did, he left. But he would pull into the driveway, night after night, and rev his engine and flash his high beams while I crawled around the floor with the lights out, peeking through the windows until he left.

A few years later, I was living with a man who saw me chatting at the video store to another man I had met through work, and I had a knife put in my face. I’m not ready to talk about anything else that happened that night.

Or, another time when I was living alone in a small town in my early 30s, a man I had met through acquaintances pulled into my driveway late at night, yelling my name and asking me to come out “and play,” while yet again I crawled around the floor with the lights out, peeking through the windows until he left.

I’ve never really talked about these moments and there are so many more–being called rugmuncher while walking down the street with another woman, being told I’m not as hot as I think I am because I wouldn’t talk to a drunk guy at the bar. I’ve been called cunt so many times, the word doesn’t even bother me anymore.

And I am not alone.

In some cases, I haven’t mentioned these incidents because I viewed them as normal. In other cases, I was and am embarrassed. I have always wondered how much of this was my own fault. Wear a short skirt into a world of horny men. Tease, flaunt, suggest, and flirt. What should I have expected and how is any healthy and virile young man supposed to react, right?

So, here we are, talking about what happened at UCSB and what that boy had to say, talking about how we feel about what’s happened and what that boy had to say.

My question is, what’s going to happen next? After the dialogue and click-baiting shuts down, will anything really change?


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Sarah Devlin

About Sarah Devlin

Sarah Devlin has been writing about the recreational industry since the late ’90s but ironically can’t run, swim, or bike a mile.